New Arrivals
Author-Sheila Paulson

Part Three
by Sheila Paulson

See notes and disclaimers in part one.

Jim Ellison felt the hate in Ragan's eyes the whole time he was on the witness stand. What really surprised him was the amusement lurking behind the hatred, as if Jim's words were no threat to him. Even when the defense witness failed to shake Jim's testimony, he continued to look amused. The expression worried Ellison.

When he left the witness stand, one of the court officers approached him and passed him a small envelope. "I was asked to give this to you as soon as you finished testifying, Detective," he said. "And you have a telephone call. The caller claims it is urgent."

Jim glanced over at Ragan before he left the courtroom. The man was nearly beside himself with fiendish delight. It would have taken a far less perceptive man than Jim Ellison to realize Ragan had taken an action that Jim was positive he wouldn't like. Sandburg. He'd have to check with Sandburg the minute he finished the call.

He took the telephone call before opening the note. "Ellison." Maybe it was Simon, maybe something had come up at the station.

"Detective, Ellison, this is Jonathan Higgins," said the familiar and annoying voice.

Jim gave a snort of disgust. "What is it, Higgins? I don't have much time right--"

"Someone with a gun has just kidnapped Blair," Higgins interrupted.

"What!" Abruptly, the amusement on Ragan's face made sense. He must have known stopping Jim from testifying wouldn't make any difference in his conviction after the testimony of those six witnesses. So instead of blocking him, he'd gotten revenge. He'd known Jim would find out the minute he finished, when it was too late to do anything.

"I followed them," Higgins said. "I suggest you get over here right away and send backup. He's in a warehouse on Griffin Street, down near the waterfront. I believe it is in the 400 block. He had a gun on Blair the whole time; I couldn't jump him. I fear I am too old and out of practice to risk Blair's life on my rusty skills. But I will maintain watch on the structure until you arrive. I have prevented his escape, at least in his vehicle. I've let the air out of three of the tires. I couldn't manage the fourth without passing in full view of a window. It's a 1994 black Caravan." He gave the license number. I'm driving a '96 Taurus, blue. I'm parked three blocks away. I'll wait for you there."

A competent summary. Jim had to give him credit for that. "Fine, but don't attempt anything, not even if it seems you have the ideal opportunity. I know something of your background, but I'd prefer to leave it to people who are younger and fitter and who are trained in hostage situations."

"I shall be yours to command," Higgins said formally, but Jim, who had also been in combat, knew how hard it would be for the former soldier to take a back seat, especially because of his age. There wasn't time for more than realization, though.

"I'll be there in under ten minutes," he said. "Stay put."

In the elevator, he opened the envelope. The message inside was printed on a word processor and said simply, "Now, we're even, Ellison. As too many witnesses said, I like my deaths to be slow and painful. By the time you find Sandburg, he will be dead in just such a way. I hope you will picture him, screaming for you to come to his rescue as he dies in agony." There was no signature. There was no need of one.

"God, Sandburg," Jim groaned. "Just because you weren't involved in the case didn't mean you were safe."

There wasn't time to remember the last evening he'd spent with Blair, the anger, the betrayal, he had flung at him. If Blair died, Jim would have to live with that memory. But now, while there was still a chance of saving him, thanks to Higgins, he had to focus his every bit of concentration, his every Sentinel skill on rescue. Ragan had not counted on Blair's location being so easily discovered. Because of a man Jim had chosen to despise, Jim had an edge--and Blair had a chance of survival.

Once in the truck, speeding to the rendezvous with Higgins, Jim called in for backup and reported the license plate Higgins had given him. He wound up talking to Simon directly. "It was Ragan. I'm sure of that. A note was given to me right after my testimony. He had to know he's going down for what he did, so he decided to take revenge on me."

"By grabbing Sandburg? Jim, if it had ever occurred to me Sandburg might be in jeopardy, I'd have arranged protection."

"Sandburg was in the background when I arrested Ragan," Jim replied. "Unless Ragan's contacts watched me, I don't see how he'd even have come up. I think it might be his kid brother, Simon. What's his name?"

"Tommy? No, Terry. Terry Ragan. Age 23, I think. Early twenties anyway. He's the one who insisted his brother had cause to kill his brother-in-law. He wrote letters to the mayor and the governor. He's a crackpot, fanatical, too. I hope to god it isn't him. He's just like his older brother."

"I'll get Sandburg out of there," Jim insisted. "We got lucky, that he was spotted and followed."

"By this Higgins character you were so down on yesterday?"

Jim grimaced. "Yeah, okay, so he's got more going for him than I gave him credit for.... Gotta go. I'm nearly there."

"Jim, wait for backup," Simon urged.

"I will--if I can. I'm not taking any chances with Sandburg's life."

He terminated the call, speeding up to reach the scene as quickly as possible. He couldn't leave Blair in danger from someone who must have learned all he knew from a man like Jack Ragan. Jim had seen the body of Ragan's victim when he forced his way into the garage in response to calls reporting agonized screams. Ragan had started small, with a series of knife cuts on the arms and legs. He'd worked his way up to the left eye, which he had attacked with a thin wire. Finally, he had started to skin his victim. Jim had come close to losing his breakfast at the sight of the man, who was still alive and even clinging to consciousness when the police arrived. He died en route to the hospital. Jim could still remember the look on Ragan's face as he turned, blood on his hands, even on his face, his smile of sheer delight fading into anger at the interruption. The thought of Sandburg receiving that kind of treatment twisted Ellison's stomach into hard knots.

If Blair died, he'd never have a chance to make it up with him.

Afraid of what he was about to find, he turned the corner onto Griffin Street, a narrow, scruffy road that ran between rows of warehouses. It wasn't a populated area. There were a few cars and trucks parked alongside the road and a semi was backed up into a loading area of one of the nearer buildings. Jim had to cut around it. When he did, he saw the blue Taurus--but no sign of Higgins.

Jim pulled into the cross street just before he reached the Taurus and got out of the pickup, checking his gun. Edging around the corner, he made his way down the street, stopping beside the Taurus.

It was empty.

"Damn you, Higgins, if you've risked Blair's life...." he began, his voice trailing off when he spotted the older man further down the street, concealed from the warehouse where Blair must be held by a huge, green dumpster. Focusing his vision on the older man, Jim saw him make a gesture at a building just beyond his shelter and start to speak. Quickly adjusting his hearing, he could hear the Englishman perfectly well, although no one in the warehouse would be able to hear him. "I say, Ellison, you made good time. I managed a quick glimpse into the window. I'm glad you've come. I fear for Blair's life."

Jim hurried to meet him, keeping close to the buildings to prevent being heard. "What did you see?" he demanded in an undertone.

"He made Blair do the driving on the way here, and I assume held a gun on him the whole way so he couldn't try anything. The van swerved once, and I suspect it was Blair, trying to throw him off balance, maybe to get the gun. He didn't try a second time."

"Was he hurt when he went in there?" Jim asked.

"He seemed unhurt when he got out of the van, but as he entered the warehouse, his captor struck him on the back of the head with his gun."

Jim felt his fingers tightening around the butt of his gun.

"When I looked in the window, I saw him," Higgins explained, winning Jim's instant attention. "He was bound to a chair, his feet free, his arms twisted behind him. He looked as if he had been roughed up a bit. The man who held him had gripped him by the hair, and as I watched, he slapped Blair across the face." Higgins' jaw flexed. "I am unarmed and knew to enter without a weapon would not help Blair. I considered it very seriously, Detective Ellison, but I knew you would arrive soon so I made myself wait."

"That was the right thing to do," Jim reassured him. He could see in the little man's face a genuine concern for Blair. "I've called for backup. They'll be here in moments. But I'm not sure Blair can wait." He wasn't sure he could wait, if it came to that. "What weapons did he have, could you tell?"

"He had a 9 mm. Beretta," Higgins said. "I was able to see that through the window. And he had a knife. It looked rather like a traditional Bowie knife, fairly large. He was waving it at Blair and threatening him. Lacking your hearing, I couldn't understand what he was saying, and I could not read his lips because his back was to me. But I could see Blair's face."

"Was he conscious?" Jim asked.

"Yes, and he saw me in the window, I'm certain of it. He didn't give a sign; it would have alerted his captor to my presence. I tried to signal him that you were coming. He is a brave lad; he will hold out."

"He is brave--and inventive," Jim said. "We'll have to get him out of there." He explained in a couple of sentences the possible tie with Ragan and the way Ragan had murdered his victim. Higgins' face lost color. "You say you can read lips?"

Higgins nodded.

"And your vision is exceptionally sharp?" When Higgins agreed, he said, "I'm going to go up on the roof and work my way in from above. When I'm in place, if I can find a way in, I'll tell you. You can lip read my answer. I want you to pass the building in a noisy way, create a distraction for me that won't appear a threat to Ragan. Is there any way you can look a little less formal?"

"Certainly, if that is what is required." Higgins removed his topcoat and stripped off his jacket. "I believe I might guess what you have in mind, Detective Ellison."

Jim told him, and Higgins nodded. He had been right.

As he climbed to the rooftop by means of a rusty and derelict fire escape, Jim couldn't help thinking about Blair and what he might be enduring while he waited for rescue. The man who had grabbed him must have rendered him unconscious to get him inside and tie him up. From Higgins' description, of gunman, it could well be Ragan's younger brother. Jim didn't remember seeing him in court that morning.

This wasn't right, Blair in trouble simply because he was Jim's friend. He had to get Sandburg out of there.

And he couldn't help remembering the previous night, the stupid fight, his anger over something that must have been sheer accident, brought on by Blair's enthusiasm. Maybe he'd needed someone like Higgins to come along. Jim hadn't been giving him much support lately. He'd let Blair's enthusiasms flow over him like water over a dam, while he remained as untouched as the dam itself. Maybe he'd disliked Higgins so much because Blair had reacted to him so positively. Maybe he'd simply been jealous. Which was just plain stupid when he thought of it. But human. Sandburg was the closest friend he'd ever had, yet a man so different from every other friend he'd ever had that developing that bond had been a challenge from the word go. They'd often irritated each other, but in the end, even without the Sentinel-guide bond, it had all been worth it.

But there were times when Jim felt his life had slipped out of his control, when the weight of responsibility he had accepted by choosing to be a Sentinel bowed him down and isolated him from the rest of humanity. He knew Blair's desire for tests was valid and the tests themselves necessary, but there were times, when he was tired and frustrated, when things went wrong, that he ached for a normal life again, when he didn't have to be different. And in those moments, Blair, and the tests he proposed, were a sign of everything he'd been forced to leave behind when he accepted the burden of being different. He knew that was stupid and wrong; without Blair Sandburg, he'd probably have lost his sanity. Blair had helped him gain control, and he had also brought variety, humor, laughter, and companionship into a life that had never known those things before.

And there were times when Jim pushed him away, held him at arms' length. Okay, so he understood why, but it was still stupid. He hadn't even realized how stupid until he saw Blair reacting to Higgins, coming to life, recapturing the enthusiasm that had seemed muted lately. That it had been a total stranger and not Sandburg's best friend who had evoked such a response had annoyed Jim, threatened him. And he'd overreacted like crazy.

All those thoughts went through his mind in a rush as he climbed the stairs. He'd have to do something about them. But first, he had to get Blair away from that madman.

Reaching the roof he made his way carefully across the tarred surface to a doorway that opened soundlessly under his hand. His hearing and sight focused as sharply as possible, he edged into the opening, looking down at the metal ladder that descended to a series of catwalks that wove their way across the ceiling of the warehouse. Between the paths and railings, he got a glimpse of two men in small, patterned segments: an arm, a head of hair, a foot, part of the chair. He couldn't see Blair's face but he could see his left arm. In spite of the chill of the deserted warehouse, his shirt was gone, and Jim observed a thin tracery of blood just above the elbow.

"...not gonna get away with this, man," Blair's voice drifted up to him. "You don't want to do this. I know you don't." He sounded like he was in pain, but not in serious difficulties yet. There was strength in the tone, probably boosted by an adrenaline rush, but in spite of the defiant courage and the deliberate calm in his words, Jim could hear the fear that lurked behind them. He had to get down to Blair. But the lowest catwalk was too high above them for him to jump without lowering himself first. He couldn't help Sandburg if he shattered a leg in landing. The angle might not be safe for a shot unless he could move a little ways past Terry Ragan to get a clear angle. And if he did that, he'd be out on a lone catwalk, in full view of the gunman.

He needed help.

Measuring the distance with his eyes, planning his timing, Jim knew he had to have a distraction, after all. If backup had arrived, it hadn't made itself known yet. So Ellison backed out of the stairwell and crossed to the front of the building, leaning over the edge and waving his hand to catch Higgins' attention. The Brit lifted his own in response.

Shaping his words distinctly, Jim mouthed, "Three minutes. No more."

"I understand," Higgins replied too softly to be heard within the warehouse. "Hurry."

Jim nodded, checked his watch, and returned to the stairwell. Silently he ghosted down the ladder to the highest catwalk, where he planted his feet carefully, determined to make no sound to give him away. Edging sideways, he tried to shift in a direction that kept him out of the line of sight of Blair's captor. It was Terry Ragan after all. He recognized the man immediately.

Sandburg wasn't looking up. He'd tucked his chin down against his chest as if to shield himself from the backhand blows Terry Ragan was applying rhythmically to his face. Jim winced at the crack of sound from each blow, although he knew they could not do enough damage in the moments remaining to deal Sandburg a serious injury.

Blair was bound in the chair, shirt missing, hands pulled behind the chairback and secured tightly with wire. His wrists were bloodied from an attempt to work free, or from being manhandled roughly enough to upset his balance and force him to use his arms to maintain position. There were three thin, shallow cuts across his chest and left shoulder that had bled but not very much, a few trickles and smears but nothing very deep. They would sting though, the blade hot ice against his flesh. Jim jerked his gun into position but realized if he fired now, he stood a good change of hitting Blair, and he dared not take that risk.

Lowering himself carefully to the next catwalk, he slid his feet soundlessly, trying to prevent a minute vibration that would alert Ragan to his presence. When he reached the point where the next lower catwalk crossed beneath the one he was on, he slid over the railing and dropped soundlessly onto it. One more to go, but he'd be visible there if Ragan chose to look up.

Ragan didn't, but he grabbed Sandburg roughly by the hair and yanked his head back. Blair gasped and stiffened, fighting the motion and trying to go with it to keep from having chunks of his hair yanked out. The motion brought him into direct line of sight with Jim, who shook his head hastily and gestured for silence. Blair's eyes reacted but it would take someone who knew him well to see it.

At that moment, a drunken voice began to sing right outside the door, loud, off key, and blurred from too much drink. "Schweet Adeline...."

Ragan whirled and faced the door, gun raised and aimed to meet the new threat. Blair gazed up at Jim as if he'd witnessed his deliverance and a huge, sloppy grin slid across his face. The singing went on and the door burst open abruptly to admit a filthy, smelly figure, half covered in garbage from the dumpster, white shirt stained, one sleeve torn, and the greying hair tangled and sticking up at random. The knees were torn open on his trousers and his shoes were caked with dirt. Still singing drunkenly, former Sergeant Major Higgins, late of the Queen's Own West Yorkshire Regiment staggered into the room, stopping in dumbfounded reaction at the sight of the gunman as if what he saw couldn't make an impact on a drink-befuddled brain. It was a superb performance.

Jim was over the rail and down on the lowest catwalk as the door opened, but Ragan still stood directly in front of Blair; Jim didn't have a clear shot. And Higgins was a target now, too. He faced down the gun unflinchingly.

"Whatcha doin' there, mac?" he demanded in an uneducated American accent. "Got any squeeze for an old man?" His words ran together, and he gave himself a drunken tremor. As a threat to Ragan, he looked like a non-contender.

"Get out of here, you drunken old fool or I'll blow your stinking head off," Ragan snapped and leveled the gun. Jim threw himself toward the end of the catwalk, knowing he couldn't get there in time to save Higgins.

Blair might be down, but he wasn't out. With Ragan's attention focused on the drunken apparition in the doorway, he wasn't paying attention to Sandburg any more. Blair nodded quickly at Jim, then he drew up his unbound legs and lashed out with them, thrusting with both feet and catching Ragan hard on the back of the knees. No one can sustain a hard blow there unprepared, and Ragan was no exception. His knees buckled and he staggered, the gun flying from his hand and spiraling into the air as he crashed to the floor. Higgins lunged for him, putting off the alcoholic stagger without a second's hesitation, and Jim lowered himself over the edge of the catwalk, dangled one-handed, gun in the other hand, and made the drop, landing hard and rolling once. Ragan's gun landed with a clatter and discharged harmlessly into the back wall.

Ellison had his gun at ready, even as Higgins brought up his hand and delivered a quick, efficient karate chop to the back of Ragan's neck. Jim was there a second later, yanking the man's unresisting hands behind his back and cuffing him.

"Teamwork. I love it," exulted Blair. "This is so great."

Jim abandoned Ragan without a moment's hesitation and lunged for Sandburg, grasping his chin in one hand and tilting his face up. He looked battered, his bottom lip split and bleeding, his right eye puffy and starting to swell shut, but he was conscious and aware, and in spite of his appearance and the slight cuts on his chest, shoulder and arm, not badly hurt. "Are you all right?" Jim fussed. His friend looked chilled and shaken, and Ellison began to rub his arms up and down in an automatic attempt to warm him up. It was cold and damp outside, not a great day to be shirtless.

"Now I am. Oh, man, you timed that great. He was telling me all sorts of nasty stories about skinning me alive. Jim, he's Ragan's kid brother. He got the drop on me pretending to be a student. That really sucks, man." He shifted uncomfortably. "Not that I don't like the idea of being warm, but can you get this wire off my wrists first. It hurts."

"Right away, Chief." Jim put a hand on the unmarked shoulder and squeezed gently before circling around behind Blair and attacking the wire.

"I didn't realize it was you at first, Jonathan," Blair said to Higgins. "You're filthy and you smell." He grinned widely. "No offense. Did you roll in a dumpster? You deserve an Oscar for that performance. It was great! If a cop had come through that door, or anybody he considered a threat, he'd have killed me." Jim felt the shiver that ran through Sandburg's body at the realization but he also felt Blair catch himself and reassert control. He'd been scared but he'd handled himself. It was what Jim had come to expect from his guide in a crisis, and he was proud of him.

"It was actually rather entertaining," Higgins said, preening himself. "It's been far too long since I've been involved in the action. I quite enjoyed myself."

"Facing down that gun took a lot of courage," Jim admitted. "I have to say I misjudged you, Higgins."

"Perhaps I misjudged you as well, Detective Ellison," Higgins replied. He rolled Ragan over on his side and lifted the man's eyelid. "He's unconscious." Leaving him on the floor, he got up and came over to Sandburg, produced a clean handkerchief from his trousers pocket, and used it to dab at the blood from the worst cut, the one on Blair's arm. "It's not serious, Blair. Are you all right?"

Blair shuddered reminiscently. "I will be. He was really out of it, over the top, telling me all the nasty things he wanted to do to me. I've gotta say none of it sounded like fun, but I knew you'd seen me, and I knew you'd call Jim. I just had to hold out until Jim got here, not make him mad." The trust in Ellison was palpable in his voice.

"You did great, Chief," Jim assured him, finally freeing the wire from Blair's wrists as gently as he could, wincing when Blair flinched anyway as he straightened his arms and pulled them around to survey the damage. "You did exactly the right thing, acting like that. You knew better than to provoke him. You're a little cut up but I don't think any of it is serious. I wish that backup would get here." Taking off his coat, he slung it around Blair's shoulders and the younger man shivered gratefully into its warmth. Jim dropped his hand on the shoulder that hadn't been cut and squeezed it reassuringly while Higgins used the handkerchief to dab at Sandburg's wrists.

As if waiting for the proper cue, Simon, Brown, and three uniformed men burst into the warehouse, guns at ready.

Blair gave a sputter of laughter. "Ask and you shall receive," he said and sagged back in the chair. Jim caught him as he passed out.

"But I'm not hurt," Blair insisted an hour later. He was sitting on an examining table in the ER, wearing his jeans and a hospital gown. The cuts had been treated, X-rays had been taken, and the two men were waiting for the results. Bruises had started to darken on Blair's face and, glimpsing himself in the mirror, Sandburg had bemoaned the fact that he would probably still look terrible for Christmas. His right eye wouldn't swell completely closed but it would be a spectacular shiner.

Jim was frankly hovering. Watching him, Blair realized the experience had been as bad for Jim as it had been for him. Blair had known all along that Jim would get there in time. He always did. Sandburg had only endured some pain and a lot of demented rambling, but Jim had not known what to expect when he arrived. Blair couldn't help being a little awed at how worried for him Jim had been.

"From my perspective you don't exactly look great, Chief," Jim pointed out. "I know you just want to go home, but I'd feel better about it if I was sure you really were okay first."

"You were worried about me," Blair said. There was a hint of a crow in his voice, but a hesitation laced through it that Jim noticed.

"Hell, yes, I was worried about you, Sandburg," Jim blurted out. "I know what Jack Ragan was capable of and what his brother was capable of in the name of revenge. Higgins got me the license plate of his van so we knew what we were up against."

"That's not what I meant," Blair said, rubbing his forearms absently as if he still hadn't quite warmed up from the chill of the warehouse. "I knew you'd come because that's what you do, because you don't let people down when there's a crisis. But you were mad at me. I knew you'd do your job, but I wasn't sure you'd worry."

"Goddamn it, Sandburg!" Jim exploded.

"Wait, Jim, easy," Blair cried placatingly, holding up his hands to stop the outburst.

"You weren't sure I'd worry?" Jim repeated angrily, then he stomped down the anger. "Okay, you got me, I was a jerk. I resented the hell out of Higgins and I got on your case. If the guy already knew about me, I don't see how you could have done anything but responded when he talked. I was just a little--"

"Pissed off?" Blair asked.

"Jealous," Jim corrected, his face freezing up as he realized what he'd said. He looked as if he'd given anything to call the word back and never to have conceptualized it in the first place. His expression was absolutely mortified.

"Ohmigosh, Jim," Blair said softly as a lot of Jim's reactions suddenly made sense. "Jealous of Higgins?"

"You were so excited about him," Jim explained, avoiding Blair's gaze. "You should have seen yourself. You haven't been bouncing around like that for a long time. Here was somebody who could talk all that intellectual stuff you like so much. I thought maybe you realized how much you missed it." He grimaced. "God, Chief, do you know how damned hard it is for me to open up like this?"

Blair did know. Suddenly he realized how his delight with the Englishman must have appeared to Jim. A new friend who spoke his language, someone who offered the temptation of academia, someone who might lure Blair back to scholarly pursuits, away from his police observer role. It had never occurred to him in a million years that Jim Ellison could be insecure about their friendship. But Jim couldn't do the kind of talk Higgins did, and there was Blair, reveling in it. He'd told Jim he didn't think he could go back to the life he'd had before he met Jim, but maybe Jim had seen him interacting with Higgins and thought he might want his old life again.

"And I never let you test me anymore," Jim added. "I thought maybe you'd learned as much as you could and were ready to move on--or give up on me." He avoided Blair's eyes.

"I miss the tests, Jim, but they're not because I want to bug you," Blair replied. "I know how much you hate them, and I understand why. There are times when you've got to just loathe being a Sentinel. You'll stick with it because you accepted it and you never back out of your responsibilities, but sometimes I worry that you'll associate me with the way your life has changed and resent the hell out of me for it."

"Are you kidding?" Jim demanded. "You're the good part of all of it, Chief. The one who keeps me sane and centered. The one who's always there for me, even when I don't deserve it. Maybe I'm not very good at--at showing it. That doesn't mean I don't feel it." He heaved a sigh. He was dragging his words out of a part of himself that rarely saw the light of day. "Then I saw you so excited about all that tribal stuff, and you told Higgins about me."

"I didn't, Jim. He was talking about a link between a Sentinel and guide and asked me if I felt it and I started to say I did before I realized it was a trap. It wasn't a trap on purpose, he wasn't trying to trick me into admitting it. It was just because he already knew and forgot he wasn't supposed to. He didn't try to worm it out of me. That's not the way he is."

"His friend in the Navy says he's an honorable man," Jim conceded. "It's just--you really liked those boring stories?"

"They weren't boring, Jim. I thought they were great."

"Sometimes I just don't understand you, Sandburg."

Blair felt his grin flash out. "Then we're even, Jim, because I don't always understand you."

"But I'm clear-cut, compared to you."

"Nobody's clear-cut, Jim. Besides, here you are with this wonderful gift that lets you help people. I know there's a downside to it, but I'd be so excited!"

"Not if you knew it was for always," Jim said honestly.

"I try to remember that," Blair said. "And I don't want to do all the tests just to get on your case or because I can't see how you feel about it. It's because those tests might save your life--and if you died because I hadn't prepared you, how the hell do you think I'd feel? I'd be letting down my best friend."

Jim's eyes warmed. "I guess Higgins just stood for everything I was uneasy about," he said. "Maybe we needed a shake-up."

"Everybody does sometimes. They're not fun though." He grew serious. "Jim, I can't tell you how sorry I am about letting it slip out like that, man. I swear to you, it'll never happen again."

"I know that," Jim said without hesitation. "I don't want to go through an experience like this again. I'm sorry I was such a prick about Higgins."

"He's leaving in a day or two anyway," Blair said. "I'll probably e-mail him every now and then. And do you know what, Jim?" He bounced up off the diagnostic bed, too excited to stay in place. "He's gonna give me the e-mail address for Indiana Jones!"

From the blank look on Jim's face, it was clear he hadn't realized Indiana Jones was anything but a character in a Spielberg movie who was played by Harrison Ford. "Come on, Chief...." Jim began doubtfully, and suddenly Blair felt such an overwhelming sense of relief and happiness that he couldn't contain it. He lunged for Jim, grabbed him, and hugged him hard.

Jim hadn't seen it coming, and he wasn't the greatest person for hugs in the world, but suddenly his arms came around Blair and he returned the embrace fervently, as if he he'd realized how close he'd come to losing his friend and guide. Blair, who knew all too well how close he had come, reveled in the moment, unwilling to let go. Jim was right, they'd needed a shake-up, and Higgins had been the perfect catalyst to bring it about. The knowledge that Jim wasn't mad at him, wasn't tired of him, helped Blair push the incident into perspective. He might have a bad dream or two over it, but he was going to survive. He was going to be just fine.

As Jim released him and stood back, a little embarrassed, Blair felt delight run through him. "Hey, Jim," he said eagerly. "I've got some really great ideas for new tests. I've been thinking about trying to push your vision toward the invisible ends of the spectrum. Infrared tests. Think if we could get you to see electromagnetic radiation. I think we can expand your spectrum of visible light if we worked at it. I could set up a series of tests. There's a guy at the university who works with visible light...."

Jim stood back watching him and not saying a word, his expression a comical blend of dismay, resignation, amusement, and affection. "Gotcha," Blair said.

"You sure did. Okay, Chief, set up your tests. I don't have to like them, but I'll give it a shot."

"You will? That's great, man! This'll be so cool. I just know we can...."

Jim was saved by the arrival of the doctor with the X-ray results who had come to discharge Blair and allow him to go home.

"It's been incredible, man," Jim told Jonathan Higgins two days later when he and Jim had driven the man to the airport for his return flight to Hawaii. Leaving Jim to park the pickup, Blair had come in with the Englishman, carrying his suitcase. Although his bruises had begun to fade, they were still visible and had won him questioning stares as they walked through the terminal. "I can't believe you actually gave me the Burton letters. That is so cool!"

"They mean more to you than they do to me, Blair. Therefore, you should have them."

"Thanks, man," Blair said fervently. "And thanks for giving your notes about the Multo to Jim. He still doesn't think being a Sentinel is a blessing."

"It must be a very mixed blessing," Higgins said seriously. "Try to understand that. At times, he will regard it as a curse. You'll help him most by knowing that and understanding when to back off."

"I know. I get carried away sometimes," Blair agreed.

"There's nothing wrong with enthusiasm, my lad," Higgins told him. "But enthusiasm in some moderation. We have to live in a world where not everyone is capable of such zeal."

"You called that one," Blair agreed.

"I say, Blair...."

He nodded encouragingly.

"You're very lucky. A friend as close as Detective Ellison is rare. I've had many friends in my life. And yet, in the end, the one I enjoyed most, the one I...cherished the most, was a man who was as different from me as night is from day, a man I found irritating in the extreme when I first met him. He found me stuffy and rigid. Yet whenever I was in crisis, it was Magnum I could go to, and he could do the same with me. Even though life has pulled us apart, I know I could still go to him if need be, and I know that whenever I encounter him, I can pick up the threads without effort. I think you and Detective Ellison are like that. I think you are very fortunate to have formed a once-in-a-lifetime friendship. Don't let petty annoyances ruin it."

"Believe me, I won't," Blair said fervently.

The flight was called then, and Higgins shook hands with Blair, promised to stay in touch, then hung back long enough to shake hands with Jim as he hurried up to join them. The last sight Blair had of Higgins was of the pear-shaped man handing his ticket to the flight attendant and turning to board the plane, talking to her nonstop.

Jim slung a casual arm around Blair's shoulders. "You'll miss that old guy," he said, shaking his head.

"He just said it, Jim. Everybody's different. It'd be boring otherwise."

"Nobody can ever say you're boring, Chief. Weird, maybe, alarming, sometimes, but not boring."

"Thanks. I think." Blair grinned. "Jim, it's only a week till Christmas. Can we stop somewhere so I can do some shopping? I've still got a lot of things I need to buy. Just think, it'll be great!"

"Facing hordes of maddened, last-minute shoppers is great, Sandburg? Are you serious?"

"We can use your Sentinel sight to check out sales and prices, and you can listen and see where the other shoppers found good deals. It'll be a great test of your abilities in a distracting situation, Jim. Just think of it."

"I am thinking of it," Jim said sourly. Then he shrugged, grinned in tolerant resignation, patted Blair's shoulder, and steered him in the direction of the parking lot. "It's going to be hell."